Rachel Burkman does a lot of things on the volleyball court that are impressive to watch.
The thing of beauty, though, is when she attacks out of the back row.
When the senior outside hitter curls toward the middle, swoops in like a hawk, launches her 5-11 frame into the air and swings, it’s an amazing sight.
She’s got quite a wingspan.
“It’s pretty big,” Burkman said, laughing. “I have really long arms. I like hitting from the back row. I feel like I jump higher from the back row.”
Burkman is one of the big reasons Lincoln-Way North is 13-2. Entering the week she totaled 117 kills, 97 digs, 13 blocks and 13 aces, numbers that are to close to her final totals from 2013.
“It’s been fun to watch Rachel grow and develop,” North coach Mary Brown said. “She really lacked confidence as a sophomore when I had her up to the varsity. I saw the potential in her, but she didn’t see it.
“[Then-senior setter] Shannon Murphy last year took her under her wing and pulled her along. So there was a lot of progress there, and then she had a real nice club season. It’s nice to watch her blossom into the player that she needed to know she could be.”
Burkman plays only volleyball at North, but in grammar school at Summit Hill in Frankfort she experienced the full variety of sports as a first baseman and catcher in softball, a forward in basketball, a long jump, high jump and running competitor in track and a setter in volleyball. She also was, for a brief spell, a cheerleader.
In volleyball, she was a standout setter, but at the end of her eighth-grade year Burkman began a growth spurt that saw her sprout from 5-5 to almost five inches taller.
“My older brother (Nick) is shorter than me so he really (wasn’t) too happy about it,” she said, smiling. “It was weird, but it worked out for sports. It was good. I was happy about it, because I liked hitting better anyway.”
Burkman walked away from the other sports at the end of grammar school to concentrate on club volleyball, where she was converted to outside hitter.
“I worked at it a lot before freshman year (at North) and my coaches helped me out a lot,” Burkman said. “It felt pretty natural.”
She adapted well enough that she earned a spot on the sophomore team. It was there she met Murphy, who wound up being her setter for three seasons.
“She was so good, such a good setter,” Burkman said. “She would always pick up everybody on the court and made everyone feel comfortable. She did it for me when I was a freshman playing on the sophomores.”
Now it’s Burkman who is doing the leading. During a wild semifinal Saturday against Lyons in the ASICS Preview, she time and again put down kills and dug up the ball in the back row to keep the Phoenix alive in a Game 3 that went all the way to 30-28.
She also was a proficient decoy on the court.
“I like to call for the ball a lot,” Burkman said. “I want to get set, but it also confuses the other team. They don’t know where the ball is going. So calling for the ball is usually helpful.”
Whatever it takes.
“You can just go to her. She’s your go-to girl,” Brown said. “I’m really impressed with her defense this year, because that was the weakest part of her game, and she’s been our top leader in digs every match.”